From the Dean: From one role to another

Sunday marks my last day as interim president of UND, as Andy Armacost officially takes over on Monday, June 1, 2020. Susan and I have been busy packing up our belongings in University House prior to our move out next week, and our Fargo home will be chock full of favorite items we had up in Grand Forks. I plan to continue to commute from Fargo to Grand Forks as need be, although in this COVID-19 era, going into my office on the UND campus has become more of the exception than the rule. Still, we will miss being on campus as much as we have been during this interim year.

But just when I was looking forward to being able to spend all of my time on SMHS activities after splitting my time 50:50 between UND and the School during the interim presidency, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum came along with a unique and enticing offer: Would I be willing to spend the half of my time that I had been devoting to the interim presidency to a similar position for the state? I would continue as vice president for health affairs and dean of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, a position that I’ve occupied since 2009, but would also function as the chief health strategist for the state and report directly to the Governor.

After discussing the offer with various individuals, including incoming President Armacost, North Dakota University System (NDUS) Chancellor Mark Hagerott, Lieutenant Governor Brent Sanford and others, especially my wife Dr. Susan Farkas, I decided to accept the offer.

As the state’s chief health strategist, I will work with a team of colleagues that I’m in the process of selecting to create a vision and strategy for developing a world-class public health enterprise for North Dakota in partnership with the NDUS; local public health entities; the private sector; and local, state, federal, and tribal governments.

This will be a time-limited appointment, and the Governor and I anticipate that we can develop and begin to launch a robust public health strategy for the state over the next eight months or so. That means that I should be able to return to my first love—the UND SMHS—full time on Feb. 1, 2021. I can hardly wait! But I’m also incredibly humbled and energized by the Governor’s confidence and commitment.

An additional attraction for me was that Gov. Burgum simultaneously appointed Dr. Andrew Stahl, a 2013 UND SMHS graduate, to serve as the interim state health officer overseeing the North Dakota Department of Health. This promises to be a great partnership, and I look forward to working with Dr. Stahl. His appointment was needed because the current State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte announced that she planned to step down from her current position at the Department of Health to rejoin the private sector. I have worked with Mylynn over the years and was one of three physicians on her Physician Advisory Board (required under North Dakota Century Code when the state health officer is not a physician; Mylynn’s training is in public health and nursing). She is a highly principled, hard-working, dedicated professional, and I will miss working with her. I wish her all the best.

In addition to functioning as chief health strategist for the state, NDUS Chancellor Hagerott has asked me to chair a higher education committee looking at policies and procedures for dealing with the pandemic. Called the NDUS Smart Restart Task Force, the group will have three working subgroups, one for the large, one for the medium-sized, and one for the smaller campuses within the NDUS. While the Task Force is not charged with promulgating system-wide policy, it will collect, catalog and discuss the specific policies and procedures for each of the 11 campuses.

Although the state job is focused on strategy and the Task Force on tactics, there will be some complementarity between the two roles. But it promises to be a busy summer, fall, and winter. As always, I’d welcome your advice, feedback, and suggestions. Remember – stay safe, stay connected, and stay in touch!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Interim President and Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences